Renewable Energy
In Wind Market, Knowing What Hasn’t Worked is Key

As the use of wind turbines continues to increase around the world and become more technologically advanced, composites can be part of the solution for making them lighter, larger and more efficient.

The blades, generators and electrical systems of a wind turbine have historically been the largest areas of focus because ultimately the efficient conversion of mechanical energy into electrical is the overall intent. Similar to the automobile industry, the goal of wind turbine makers is to lessen the component loads and decrease part count.

But most wind turbine blades are made with a hand lay-up process, which can lead to manufacturing defects and lack of consistency. As the wind energy industry moves toward more composite material use in wind blades, manufacturing processes that have been pervasive in the aerospace and defense industries for the manufacturing of blades, wings and fuselages need to be used more often.

Gary Kanaby is director of sales and marketing for Wind Energy at MFG Wind, a brand operated by Molded Fiber Glass Companies (MFG). MFG has pioneered composite product advances and serves as a top wind energy supplier of blades, nacelles and spinners.

Kanaby led the COMPOSITES 2013 education session “Wind Blade Failure Identification and Prevention.” One of his key points: Blade building is difficult, and understanding what hasn’t worked can lead an eager industry toward better designs and preventive maintenance. Wind blades are produced at prices not far from less demanding composite structures, yet are expected to perform much like an aerospace part, he said.

Wind blades are exposed to harsh environmental conditions and perform more than 1 billion cycles over their design life of 20 years, Kanaby said. Understanding common failure issues and market-entry barriers like the ones below can lead the composites industry to better designs and maintenance, he said:

  • Incomplete infusion
  • Glass movement during the vacuum process
  • Huge capital investment
  • Absence of long-term contracts
  • Uncertainty of the market due to short extensions of tax incentives and lack of a long-term energy policy